Here’s an important and stirring reminder of the pandemic that claimed 50 million lives around the world a century ago. The Catholic Historical Research Center of Philadelphia offer us this snapshot from its archdiocese:
On October 3, 1918, the Board of Health of the city of Philadelphia ordered the closing of all schools and suspended church services until further notice. The ban would remain in effect for most of October, being lifted once the flu ran its course on the 26th. Archbishop Dennis Dougherty offered the use of archdiocesan buildings as temporary hospitals and enlisted all priests, non-cloistered nuns, and the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to aid the victims of the flu. The sisters of numerous religious orders across the city would play an indispensable role in fighting the flu.
Throughout the course of the flu, over 2,000 nuns, about two-thirds of all sisters in the archdiocese, helped care for the sick, functioning mainly as nurses in hospitals across the city. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for instance were sent to the Municipal Hospital as well as acted as private nurses, going door to door in poor neighborhoods to find and care for the sick. The sisters who taught as St. Peters Claver’s School helped turn the building into an emergency hospital and served as nurses for the close to 50 patients who would be treated in the building. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis also were deeply involved in the fight against the flu as the sisters ran three hospitals, St. Agnes, St. Mary, and St. Joseph, which together saw over 1,300 patients. Other religious orders that sent nurses to various hospitals across the city included Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
An account from an IHM nun recalls entering houses and finding entire families sick in bed together with no one to care for them. When this happened the sisters would bathe the sick, clean the house and then prepare food and medicine for the sick. Sisters working in the hospitals, despite a lack of experience, were tasked with mixing medicines as well as taking temperatures and feeding the sick. Many sisters worked 12 hours shifts, with one stating that “through this experience I have learned to appreciate my vocation to the religious life more than ever before.”
Deeper in the site, you’ll find accounts of how seminarians helped in the hospitals and cemeteries, and learn how others in the city helped the people cope. Check it out.